Before the Carolers Sing

(Originally posted on site December 20, 2006.  Reposted in an edited form December 19, 2008.  This version has been slightly revised as well.)

The question popped into Marley’s head while he reflect a moment over his books. It was an odd one, for he was certain he had known a moment before. Still, once it had come in it would not leave.  Like it had an importance greater than anything he had ever known.

He glanced up and spied his manservant, standing by the bedroom door. As a rule he’d felt it unwise to show weakness before the help.  However here he was, sick in bed still.  All his record books sat around him and worked upon, true, but if weakness were to be hidden it was already too late for that.

Besides, the question practically demanded being asked.  “What day is this?”

Good man. Didn’t even bat an eyelash. “Saturday, sir.  Christmas Eve to be precise.”

Marley stared down at the books covering his thin frame. He had checked through three-quarters of them. It took him but a single day.  Age had done nothing to his mind. Nothing at all.

And yet he frowned instead of smiled. “Christmas Eve.  It felt like just another day.”

Another oddity, especially from him.  Why did the day feel so important?

A response was hardly needed.  Yet his manservant spoke nonetheless, “Isn’t it, sir?”

This drew a rattle of a laugh from Marley. “Indeed. Indeed.”

“Will it still be mutton tonight, then? Or will you–”

“Of course it will be mutton. Saturday is always mutton. Don’t take leave of your senses.”

Marley blinked. He would have sworn it was just a blink.

And yet the room was empty. The manservant was gone, no doubt to another task. Well and good, that. The man had taken to hovering about of late. No doubt suspecting his paymaster was about to shuffle from this mortal coil. The vulture.

Foolish notion, if it was present. The Marleys were a good breed, healthy in mind and body. It would take more than… whatever this blasted illness was to drag him into the grave.

Morbid thought. Back to business

The current credit book he been perusing had slipped closed to one side of his lap.  More came dangerously close to dropping of the bed itself. The quill pen he had been holding in such a sure grip a moment ago was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the manservant had seen to that as well.

What had happened, then, was most clear. At some point Marley had fallen asleep and hadn’t realized it. From its arrival the damnable illness had stolen minutes from him like a thief in the night. Fogged his head at times. He would have to go over the books again tomorrow, then.

Or have Ebenezer do so. Yes. His partner had been shirking his duties of late. For some reason this time of year made him… moody. No clear reason, but there needn’t be. It was a weakness, one that should have been removed years ago, had the man a lick of real business sense.

A small shift in position almost sent the books to the floor. He could have reached forward and pulled things back, but didn’t. Time wasn’t the only thing striped away. Arms felt like wet noodles when they didn’t feel like lead. Calling the manservant back would be the way to go, had it seemed less of an effort.

Hell. He’d spent his life building his fortune. Would a few minutes out of so many years send him to debtor’s prison? He thought not.

Marley closed his eyes, only to snap them open again. No. No more time for you, sickness. Better to look about the room. Take in what he had accomplished with his life.

The common eye would think he spent quite a bit on the furnishing the room. The wall paper was of quality, the paintings artful and crisp, the bed itself well carved, well bit. All of it, even the firm pillow he had between his back and his bed board, had been picked up at but a fraction of the cost. Some of the people he had dealt with had offered it to him as a sop to keep him from foreclosing in proper time. He had taken it all and then, in proper course and time, taken from them what they owed him, too. Business was war, and all things were fair in war.